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Friday, April 20 Local

Gov slams brakes on $4.3B transportation projects

The governor slammed the brakes on $4.3 billion worth of planned transportation projects, claiming poverty and imploring the General Assembly to finally allocate needed money.

The cuts announced Wednesday are across the board and affect communities from Torrington to Middletown to New Haven to Greenwich. They include postponing work to widen Interstate 95 between Bridgeport and Greenwich to relieve congestion, and adding lanes on Interstate 84 in Danbury.

A more than $200 million plan to improve the West Rock Tunnel on Route 15 in New Haven is off the table, along with improvements to the Merritt 7 train station in Norwalk, removing traffic signals on Route 9 in Middletown and building a new train station in Bridgeport.

Even routine highway maintenance and transportation aid to cities and towns is jeopardized. The state earlier in the week proposed raising Metro-North fees by 10 percent this year and cutting back on branch lines and other services.

“It won’t end, it will get worse unless the Legislature does something,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said.

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Projects on hold

Some transportation projects postponed by Gov. Malloy

Road

Description

FFY Start Year

Total cost

NHL

Barnum Station

2020

$100,000,000

Local Road

Cleveland Avenue over Rooster River

2019

$221,548

CT 130

Rehab Br 02475 o/ Pequonnock River (Phase 2)

2019

$30,000,000

I-95

Rehab Br 00105A o/ M-N RR & streets

2020

$21,700,000

I-95

Widen I-95 between Stamford to Bridgeport (funded 2018-2021)

2018

NA

I-95

Full interchange at Interchange 33 w/new SB off-ramp & new NB on-ramp

2018

$29,500,000

US 1 NHS

Replace Br 00326 o/ Metro North RR

2019

$10,910,000

I-95

Full interchange at Interchange 33 w/new SB off-ramp & new NB on-ramp

2020

$29,500,000

US 1 NHS

Rehab Br 00327 (Devon) o/ Housatonic River

2022

NA

The governor painted a grim picture of the state of transportation in Connecticut and the toll it is taking in terms of jobs and economic development.

“You can’t get through Fairfield County to get to the rest of the state,” Malloy said as he implored lawmakers to fully fund the state Special Transportation Fund, which is set aside for road and rail improvements.

“From Greenwich to Bridgeport it can at times take two hours,” Malloy said. “Hartford to Stamford takes two and half hours now. The problems in Fairfield and New Haven counties, and the problems that will play out in Hartford and Waterbury will cripple our economy. People are refusing to come to the state because they don’t believe the state will do what’s right for transportation.”

Still, the governor refused to endorse highway tolls as a source of hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue for the state. But he conceded the idea will come up during the legislative session that convenes next month.

‘In a pickle’

The governor’s message drew mixed reviews, with some Democrats endorsing his message and Republicans casting blame on Malloy.

“Governor Malloy continues to act as if the state’s transportation funding problems came out of nowhere,” said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven.

“But this is not a surprise,” Fasano said. “Over the last four years alone, Gov. Malloy and legislative Democrats took $164 million from the state’s Special Transportation Fund to balance their budgets. Gov. Malloy then authorized a transportation spending plan he knew couldn’t be supported by the fund.”

Fasano said Malloy and the Democratic majority are using the problem to force the Legislature to approve new taxes and place more burdens on commuters.

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“(Gov. Malloy) has implemented irresponsible fiscal policies throughout state government for years, Fasano said. “That’s why social services are in danger, why our economy and job growth is struggling, and why our transportation fund is depleted today.”

Malloy, who spoke before Fasano was asked for comment, anticipated the criticism from the GOP.

“They have given ridiculous plans,” he said.

“The state is in a pickle because it put itself in a pickle,” Malloy said. “When Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey were investing mightily in transportation, Connecticut was whistling by the cemetery.”

In Danbury, multiple DOT projects would be postponed indefinitely, including a $57 million plan to build ramps on Interstate 84 at Tamarack Avenue, near Danbury Hospital, starting in 2019.

“When you cancel projects there is a lot of money for planning and soft costs that has already been spent that you are throwing out the window,” said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a GOP candidate for governor in November. “I understand the circumstances given the financial crisis the state is in, but this is going to hurt our economy.”

The cutbacks include postponing a $13 million project in Newtown at the Route 34 intersection of Exit 11 off I-84.

“Right now there is a bottleneck there, so they were going to change the configuration of the intersection and add an on-ramp and off-ramp to alleviate the congestion, and I think that is essential, because it affects commerce,” said Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal.

“I realize the state is trying to find nickels and dimes in the sofa, but commerce is the way forward, and if you postpone infrastructure, the price only goes up by waiting,” Rosenthal said.

Lock box

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said he favors creating an independent transportation authority that would concentrate on fixing the states roads and bridges. The authority would sell bonds and install tolls if warranted.

“ It takes the politics out of it,” Duff said. ”This goes back to decades of neglect on our transportation system.”

Duff favored a measure before voters in November authorizing a constitutional lock box on transportation funds. That lock box would prevent lawmakers from raiding the Special Transportation Fund.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said it’s time to commit to funding transportation.

“It’s important to address Fairfield County’s infrastructure improvement needs because it remains the economic engine of the state. Fairfield county’s infrastructure needs are the state’s needs,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg said increased traffic and ailing infrastructure are making Fairfield County less attractive to potential residents. “I wish my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would know how important it is to invest in infrastructure,” he noted.

State Sen Mike McLachlan, R-Danbury, said postponing the projects is “no surprise” and “politics at its worst.”

McLachlan added “The Democratic Legislature and the governor have been robbing the transportation fund for years and that’s the first major problem. I look forward to he voters having the opportunity to vote for a transportation lock box. I believe voters will support that idea and that will make this kind of challenge less likely in the future.”

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